MOUNT VERNON, Mo. — Murder charges have been filed on one suspect in custody at the Lawrence County Jail and are anticipated with respect to a second in the investigation of the disappearance of a Miller area man and the recovery of some human remains near Verona.
Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay said Ray S. Fryling, 53, was charged Tuesday afternoon with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse and tampering with evidence in the presumed slaying of Coy Cole, 52.
Fryling was arrested Monday and held for 24 hours pending the filing of charges. His suspected accomplice, Matthew D. Abney, 36, had been taken into custody Friday following a pursuit that began in Barry County and ended in Newton County when the suspect crashed the vehicle he was driving. Abney has remained in custody on outstanding warrants related to prior charges in Lawrence and Greene counties.
"We anticipate probably duplicate, and maybe additional, charges being filed (on him)," DeLay told the Globe.
Investigators have not as yet obtained a positive identification of remains recovered late Monday night and early Tuesday morning on a property near Verona. Authorities had searched a pond on that property Monday with the assistance of the Newton County Search and Rescue dive team but came up empty, the sheriff said.
He said it turned out the remains were not underwater but had been discarded elsewhere on the same property. Ownership of that property has yet to be confirmed, the sheriff said. Investigators are trying to determine if either of the suspects actually owns the land.
DeLay said the body appeared to have been dismembered and burned. He said those remains have been sent to crime labs for testing.
"We can't just come out and say this is our missing person," DeLay said. "Until lab results come in and the coroner's report, we can's be 100 percent certain this is our missing person."
But investigators had developed enough probable cause for Prosecutor Don Trotter to file murder charges on Fryling, the sheriff said.
A sister of Cole, who lives in another state, contacted the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department on Dec. 1 regarding her inability to reach her brother. The sheriff said she had not heard from him for several weeks and was concerned. The sheriff's office conducted a well-being check at his residence, which quickly broadened into a missing person case. .
"We were unable to make contact, and there were some vehicles missing that were suppose to be there," DeLay explained.
Lawrence County investigators received help from the Greene County Sheriff's Department when they learned of ties to that county from reported use of Cole's vehicles and financial information.
Deputies began questioning acquaintances of Cole, including the two suspects, and eventually learned that Cole may have been the victim of foul play. DeLay said information obtained from those acquaintances led investigators to the property where the remains were recovered. The sheriff declined to say if that particular information came from either of the suspects.
Lawrence County investigators went looking for Abney again on Friday, the sheriff said.
"I believe, during that process, Barry County (Sheriff's Department) came across him in a vehicle and were the ones who initiated the pursuit," DeLay said.
Abney purportedly fled into Newton County where he crashed his vehicle on Missouri Highway 86 at Shannon Springs Road. Deputies from Newton, Barry, Lawrence and Greene counties, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, were all in the area looking for Abney when they located the crashed vehicle about 7:10 p.m. Friday.
Less that two hours later, Abney was spotted on Raccoon Road naked from the waist down and wearing nothing but a shirt, according to Newton County Sheriff Chris Jennings. But officers did not succeed in cornering him until shortly after 10:30 p.m., when he was found hiding in a camper.
A Greene County trained police dog was injured when Abney purportedly slammed the door of the camper on the dog. The dog's handler then released the animal and he was able to effect the capture of the suspect. Abney was taken to Freeman Hospital West for treatment of injuries prior to being taken to jail in Lawrence County.